After Janis Blayne Paul discovered karmic yoga and meditation, she created a meditation room in her home as a space to sharpen her skills.
An architect by trade, she said that she was questioning the direction of her craft, and found yoga and meditation helpful. During a mindfulness nature walk, she discovered a stone in her path, and was inspired to carve the sanskrit symbol for “om” onto the surface.
“It was a healing stone. I carved my intention to meditate into a stone and put it in my meditation room,” Blayne Paul said in a recent interview.
A friend from the yoga studio where she meditated was visiting her home one day and admired the stone, so she recreated a stone for her. Others were drawn to the beauty of the stones, and soon, she had pieces for sale in the boutique of a local yoga studio.
“I never envisioned that it would become more than that,” she says now.
Word spread and demand grew for her stone art tiles, in which she hand-carves symbols, logos and other images that are of personal significance to her clients. She also makes etched stone tiles and medallions and does installation-level work using boulders and landscapes. Ultimately, the stone-carving hobby blossomed into a business she calls karmic stone. (Blayne Paul styles the names in lowercase letters.)
“I have always been fascinated with art history. Stone carving is the oldest form of representation and makes a permanent statement,” she said by way of connecting her art with her expertise.
Blayne Paul received a degree in architecture from Penn State University, became licensed, and practiced for more than a dozen years before settling in at The College of New Jersey, where she worked in development and community events. But she found that she longed for a creative outlet after leaving the architecture profession. Stone carving filled that gap.
These days, her original art is available at local tile shops. She also works with clients to create focal points in home renovations with custom-designed carved stones. Blayne Paul said that she can incorporate her work into various settings, including kitchen backsplashes, mantels, patios, fireplaces.
She also works with landscapers to incorporate her designs in tiles, pavers and decorative boulders. “Pieces are hand-selected to complement the landscape through texture and discovery. They can be used to transform a rock garden or backsplash or the bluestone patio around your pool. You don’t need a stone carving, but it is an integral element within the space,” Blayne Paul said.
Blayne Paul is also trained in reiki, a healing art that uses the hands to locate and transfer energy. So she performs reiki rituals on each piece of stone before an image is crafted. She said that the type of art she creates is called bas relief. It is two-dimensional and lends itself to the nature of the stone.
“I start to remove layers of stone, and around the removed area is where the image starts to reveal itself. The shapes are carved, and they are only slightly different than the background,” Blayne Paul said.
Satisfied customers and friends encouraged her to display her work in galleries and group shows, and the exposure created even more interest in her work. Now through Jan. 15, Blayne Paul has a solo exhibition, “Transforming the Ordinary,” at the Brodsky Gallery inside the Chauncey Conference Center on the ETS campus in Princeton. An artist salon is slated for Jan. 8 at the exhibit from 2-5 p.m., offering visitors a chance to meet the artist and discuss her work with her.
Blayne Paul mostly works with a hammer and chisel to create her designs. She has also recently started using a pneumatic die grinder for some of her larger scale boulder carvings. Tiles generally range in size from 6 to 16 inches square, with those that are meant to be hung on a wall usually maxing out at around 12×12. Pieces of that size start at around $75 per tile.
Pieces that are installed above a fireplace, or as part of a backsplash or spa bath wall can be four feet tall or even larger. Many of the landscape pavers that she has carved have been 16×16 or 16×24, and there is no limit to the size of a boulder she will work with.
The pieces that are on display in the Brodsky Gallery are on the smaller size. “Stone is heavy, so you can’t hang it on a wall like a canvas. My work is detailed and intricate, and you would make it a part of a stone or brick wall,” Blayne Paul said.
Blayne Paul said that a unique aspect of the carvings is how personalized the work can be. She said that most people do not commission a painter to paint a personalized canvas, but with the stone-carvings, she is able to handcraft one-of-a-kind stone art. She has done pieces to commemorate anniversaries or weddings as well as a family coat of arms designed to adorn a stone gate.
She wanted to do something special for a friend who was battling cancer, but she was not sure what. She decided to do something featuring peonies. “She was a gardener. It was the middle of winter. She loves peonies. I’d started to use a lot more color in my work. With this particular piece, it was especially important that it was vibrant and lifted her spirits,” Blayne Paul said.
Blayne Paul was commissioned to create artwork in an historic cemetery in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She often uses ancient symbols from various cultures that represent the permanence of the stone. For the cemetery, she selected Celtic art.
“I use a lot of symbols in my work. I try to capture and tell a story. For this very large boulder, I chose an abstract tree of life with a lot of swirls, related to the swirls of Celtic art, positioned to look like they broke in half and had over time separated,” Blayne Paul said of the cemetery project.
Husband Richard, a technology project manager, has been very supportive and encouraging, Blayne Paul said. They have been married 20 years and live in northern Hopewell Township.
When she is not working in her studio, she and Richard are often traveling the world or exploring the area’s back roads on foot or motorcycle. They also like taking long walks with their whippets, Marcus and Winston. Blayne Paul said that a portion of what she earns through her stone carvings goes to charity at the end of the year as part of her practice of karmic yoga and the idea of growing through giving back.
When Blayne Paul reaches back to embrace the earliest forms of expression in human history to create personalized stone carvings, and the beauty that unfolds is stunning. She chooses stones that already have interesting textures or color variations that complement the image it will bear.
“My husband jokes that it takes me as long to choose a piece of stone, as it does to create the actual carving,” Blayne Paul said.